Saturday, September 09, 2006

What Makes a Man? Our Friday morning breakfast group had its last visit with Job yesterday. We talked about what we had learned and whether what we read has made(or should make) any difference to our lives. (Of course, it should. But in our entertainment culture, it is always important to ask whether any given activity will make a difference. So many pleasant activities seem to make no difference at all.)

One of my favorite passages in Job, which I have mentioned before, is Job 40:7a, where God admonishes Job, "Brace yourself like a man." (NIV) I simply cannot get that admonition out of my mind. In context, God is replying to Job's impertinent whining in verses 4 and 5 of that chapter. Both the ASV and the KJV translate the admonition as "Gird up thy loins now like a man" and the RSV "Gird up your loins like a man". I like the more literal "gird up your loins". It means get ready to do something important, in this case (as it should be in every case) doing God's will in the particular situation. The use of that word-picture "gird up your loins" is in several other places in Scripture.

The definition of the phrase to which I link above identifies "the loins" as the area between the waist and rib cage, because that is considered to be the strongest part of one's body. So the kettlebell boys are right on target. The loins are one's "core" muscles. It is also where the area around which one's battle belt is bound.

It seems harsh that God would tell Job at the end of the book to "Gird up they loins now like a man." Come on, Lord, give the guy a break. Look what you have already put him through. Hasn't he been broken down enough? And what, exactly, does he have left to gird, after you have destroyed everything in his life but his life?

God continues to speak to Job after 40:7, and he requires Job to consider both the "behemoth", the strongest created thing on land, and the "leviathan", the strongest created thing in the sea. I think God does that because he is showing Job what a man is not. Man is not the strongest created being in the world and because he is not then (a) he should not think himself so, (b) he should not aspire to be so, and (c) in not being so, he needs to brace himself for what the world, with Satan in it, will do to him and his family. So how does one gird his core to deal with his life, when God has already indicated that man is relatively weak? Of course, the answer is by having a right relationship with God, something, apparently, Job does not yet quite have. (See, of course, Ephesians 6:11-18!)

Finally, in Chapter 42, the first six verses, Job gets it right. He confesses that he never knew what he was talking about, as he questioned God, that his eyes finally see God, that he finally knows his place and just who he is, and that he therefore repents "in dust and ashes".

After verse six, the final section of Job begins, a section which my NIV describes as "Epilogue". When I studied Job in our Old Testament class at Duke years ago, at least one of the commentators said that this passage was just an "add-on" by someone other than the person who wrote the book, an add-on to make God a little more palatable. In other words, the "epilogue" is not "true" as the prior passages of the book are "true". We get to see how God "makes-up" for being so nasty to Job, by giving him more than Job had before God set Satan loose on him. What Job gets at the end of the book is rather like "compensatory damages" which one might recover in a court of law when someone wrongs him. That's a pretty unsatisfactory take on that section.

I think the passage should be read as an example of what a man can do who finally knows who he is, who God is, and what his place is in respect of God.

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